Though the talk was a bit out of character for the mild-mannered Tham, leading most to laugh it off, Bentley hoped that the amped home atmosphere and the fact that the Virginia Conference 13 title was at stake would spark his forward.
With the teams trading baskets late in the second quarter, Tham saw his opening, gathering a pass in transition and rising for a thunderous jam that both surprised and sparked the Warriors en route to a 75-68 win in Arlington. Tham finished with 23 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks.
The victory clinched the Conference 13 regular-season title for the Warriors (17-4, 6-0), who will have homecourt advantage in next week’s conference tournament.
“I’ve never seen [Tham] dunk like that before,” Bentley said. “He’s sort of like the Tim Duncan type, real quiet and about the fundamentals. So when he did that, I was surprised, but that got us going.”
Up to that point, the Warriors had been searching for a spark after falling behind, thanks to the play of Edison’s Marcus Brumsey. The senior scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter on several easy layups in transition.
But the Warriors stormed back behind Tham’s active play on both ends, sparking a 16-6 run punctuated by a J.P. DeFranco three that gave Wakefield a 33-32 halftime lead.
“That was a real big momentum swing for us,” Tham said.
Tham extended the rally into the third quarter, scoring 10 points and forcing Edison (18-3, 5-1) to sag more of its defenders into the paint. The subsequent space along the perimeter allowed Re’Quan Hopson (21 points) to get loose for drives to the rim and sharpshooter Marqua Walton (12 points) to get hot from the outside.
On the other end, Wakefield’s defensive pressure and Tham’s inside presence forced Edison to settle for perimeter shots, dooming the Eagles who had won the teams’ first meeting in January.
“We played better defense this time,” Tham said. “We forced them out of the middle and onto the outside for shots they didn’t want to take. That helped get us going.”
With seven consecutive wins under their belt, the Warriors hope their momentum translates into success similar to last season, when they made it to the Northern Region championship and state semifinals.
“The last five games before tonight we’ve dominated our opponents and that’s what you want to be doing at this time of year,” Bentley said. “After the last game against Edison, we preached no mental mistakes and staying focused and with us doing that tonight, we were able to keep hitting on all pistons.”